Finding the Right Dentist to Meet Your Unique Needs: A Comprehensive Guide

By Insurance Industry Expert & Author
Updated on

Good Oral Health is a Necessity

Oral health affects everyone, and it has far-reaching consequences. On average, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), students miss more than 34 million school hours every year and businesses report over $45 billion in lost productivity annually due to dental emergencies that result in unplanned dental care.

In addition, "oral health affects general health by causing considerable pain and suffering and by changing what people eat, their speech and their quality of life and well-being," the World Health Organization (WHO) reports. Finding and maintaining a relationship with a dentist is, therefore, one of the most important steps you can take to ensure your overall health.

But what should you look for when choosing a dentist? Do you know the qualities of a good dentist or what questions to ask when looking for one. What if you are trying to choose a dentist for special needs, such as implants, veneers, dentures, crowns, or braces?

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Three Key Questions to Help You Find the Best Dentist

When you select a dentist, there can be many things to think about based on your own situation and unique needs. This article will help you consider the qualities that are most important to you.

To help you explore the many options you are likely to uncover, make an informed choice, and get the oral health care you need and deserve, we will explore 3 crucial questions:

  1. What should I look for first when choosing a dentist?
  2. What are some qualities of a good dentist?
  3. What questions should I ask when considering a dentist?

What should I look for first when choosing a dentist?

When you start your search for a dentist, one of the top things to think about is your own lifestyle. That’s because it is more likely you will follow through with your regular checkups and be able to get to the dental office in an emergency if you have made it easy on yourself to begin with.

So, before you begin your search, think about the following items:

  • Which is more important to you: a dentist that is close to home, near where you work, or perhaps near the school your kids attend?
  • Which dental offices will be open during the times you will want to schedule a visit?
  • Do you anticipate visiting the dentist during weekday hours, in the evenings, or on weekends?
  • If you already have a dental plan, does it place any restrictions on the dentists you can work with?

With the answers to these questions in mind, there are a number of ways to start your search. For example, you might begin with the American Dental Association’s Find-A-Dentist tool, which lets you search by name, location, and specialty.

In addition, your state’s dental society may be able to provide the names of dentists near you. Of course, you can always talk with friends and relatives, to see who they might recommend. If you have a dental plan, your provider likely provides a list of nearby dentists who accept your plan.

If you do not have a dental plan or are unable to pay for dental insurance, you might check with your local health services or a dental school (if there is one in your area) to help find the care you need. Our State Pages include information about these types of resources to help you begin your search.

If you are like most people in the US, you are likely to find several potential dental offices that fit the lifestyle issues you have identified above. With those options in mind, you can look at some other important issues to help narrow down your choice.

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What are some qualities of a good dentist?

Dentists in the US all receive similar education and training, and must pass certification exams before they can practice. Nevertheless, there are many qualities that can set dentists apart.

Some dentists specialize in working with specific populations: children or older adults, for example. Others are more adept at working with patients who have anxiety about having dental work done. One dentist may have a more laid back or relaxed approach to how they run their offices. Others keep things moving along right on schedule and minimize delays, small talk, or other distractions.

If English is not your first language, or if you rely on sign language to communicate, you will want to be sure your dentist is either bilingual or can provide a translator or interpreter. After all, good communication is the basis for effective healthcare treatment and services of any type.

Individuals and families often require a broad variety of specialty dental services. For instance, depending on your situation, you may need a dentist who can provide implants, veneers, dentures, crowns, braces, or other types of dental work. If you want to keep all – or most – of your dental care under one roof, then you will want to find a dentist who offers a wide assortment of services in addition to restorative services, such as cosmetic dentistry services, orthodontics, and emergency services.

To uncover these qualities, you can call and chat with the front office staff about things like wait times, typical patient demographics, or whatever issues you think may affect your experience, whether in a positive or a negative way. Dentist reviews are also a great way to learn about how other patients have rated their experiences with various dentists before you decide to schedule an appointment.

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What questions should I ask when considering a dentist?

If you are not in need of immediate dental work, you can take the time to meet a prospective dentist and learn about them in person. A dental consultation allows you to speak with the dentist about your needs and concerns, discuss questions you have prepared, and review your past dental records.

Some of the questions people typically ask a dentist include the following:

  • Will the dentist or their staff provide instructions or education about how to optimize and maintain oral health?
  • If you have a dental plan, does the dentist accept the coverage? Or, if you have no dental insurance – or the dentist does not work with your plan – what options are available to cover the cost of treatment?
  • During visits, will the dentist explain procedures, and will they discuss alternative treatments if any are available?
  • If you have an emergency, will the dentist be able to see you, or will they be able to provide a timely referral to a colleague?
  • What types of records will the dentist and their staff maintain about the work they do? Under what circumstances will they share this information with others?

Remember that your consultation is not a one-way conversation. Your prospective dentist may have questions for you as well. Even if they do not ask, be sure to let them know about your past experience with dentists. What did you like or dislike about those encounters? Do you have any special concerns, such as anxiety about visiting the dentist?

Finally, if the consultation goes well, then you can schedule a cleaning, exam, or other procedure.

Remember, oral health and overall health go hand in hand. Take the time to find the right dentist to meet your needs, and make regular dental visits a part of your ongoing health program, so that you and your family can enjoy a full and healthy life.

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